The Mail

Power mergers

May 18 1998

The Mail

Power mergers

May 18 1998

The Mail

Power mergers


The announcement of the planned mergers of the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal, followed by the Toronto Dominion Bank and the CIBC, represents the final globalization blow (“Is bigger really better?” Cover,

May 4). When domestic industries join the unregulated, uncontrolled global market, it leaves little protection for the average Canadian. What can the little people do about this? Because I have accounts with two of these banks, I have sent letters to their chairmen expressing my disapproval. If they continue with these proposals, I intend to take action. I will keep my money in

the community by transferring it to a place that has my confidence—the Province of Ontario Savings Office or our local credit union. The bank CEOs may want to go from being millionaires to billionaires, but they will not do it at my expense. Globalization of this industry, along with the inevitable downsizing that is part of it, doesn’t represent progress.

Paul Malone, Clarksburg, Ont.

To ask “Is bigger really better?” in the context of the bank mergers is a smoke screen. The real questions are: should banks be allowed to freely compete for clients? is free enterprise better than a government-controlled economy at delivering better services at lower prices? do bank shareholders have private property rights or does government dictate what can be done with private property?

Glenn Woiceshyn, Calgary

Has anyone considered that the move towards mergers in the name of globalization may have less to do with increasing competition and more to do with asset envy?

Linda Easton, Goderich, Ont.


should be addressed to:

Maclean’s Magazine Letters

777 Bay St.,Toronto, Ont. M5W IA7

Fax: (416) 596-7730

E-mail: letters@macleans.ca

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be edited for space and clarity. Please supply name,

address and daytime telephone number.

Submissions may appear in Maclean’s electronic sites.

The tiny bites of flesh taken every day from the hides of innumerable customers by a plethora of bank service charges might well be termed the “black-fly effect.” If, in successfully challenging American, Japanese and Swiss superbanks, Canadian banks can improve their bottom line even further, they might think of immunizing us struggling masses somewhat from the black-fly plague. But somehow I doubt it will happen.

ƒ R. Roy,


The NDP rises again

Anthony Wilson-Smith is correct to say that the NDP will “blast away” at the Liberal government for its timid response to the big banks’ megamerger proposals (‘When the past becomes the future,” Column, May 4). The banks have interpreted Finance Minister Paul Martin’s inaction as tacit approval, while Canadians have been left wondering what the concentration of assets will mean for consumers and small business. Wilson-Smith misses the mark, though, when he presumes the NDP will use a 1970s policy to address a 1998 issue. We understand new global imperatives, but we also believe that government is not impotent to act when it comes to bank mergers. The NDP’s innovative response to the bank mergers would deny the banks’ urge to merge, but encourage them to pool their resources in international ventures to enhance their competitive strength and their service to Canadian exporters. In addition, by requiring banks to disclose more information on lending practices and the cost structure of service charges, we would ensure that the banks are accountable not only

Land of opportunity

Pollster Allan Gregg writes that “Canadians accept that we live in a world of diminished opportunities” (“Brave new époque," Essays on the Millennium, April 6). Nothing could be further from the truth. While it may be accurate to say that we have lost our guarantee of continuously increasing prosperity, opportunity continues to be as plentiful as ever. We are at an eightyear low in unemployment. Free trade agreements are opening up previously protected markets. Low interest rates and falling government deficits are making capital much more freely available. Technology—primarily computer technology—is connecting us with people, cultures and markets in a way that was barely considered a decade ago, and allowing entrepreneurship on an unprecedented scale. Will everyone be able to take advantage of these opportunities? Unfortunately, no. Is there any guarantee that everyone will enjoy success? Of course not. Are the opportunities accompanied by risks, and the discomfort of change? As always. But are the opportunities still there? Thankfully, yes. How very Canadian to confuse “opportunity” and “entitlement."

Steve Hackney, Leamington, Ont.

to their shareholders, but to their stakeholders. Finally, through a community reinvestment initiative, communities would be guaranteed fairness in lending.

Lome Nystrom, MP, Regina/Qu ’Appelle

I agree with Anthony Wilson-Smith’s argument that NDP policies may find a new resonance in public opinion, particularly around issues like the megabank mergers, but I take exception to his suggestion that the party’s policies may themselves soon be eligible to collect CPP. The party, which was so fervently nationalist and protectionist in the 1988 and 1992 free-trade debates, has today redirected those efforts. NDP opposition to the Chrétien government’s Multilateral Agreement on Investment proposal is not saying “stop the bus we want off,” but rather “lets slow it down, and try to get some seat-belts for the folks in the back.” New Democrats are different because they see power, held by politicians or CEOs, as being a trust on loan from the public. When it is used to start a public program, or close a factory, it should be exercised democratically, and by extension, be accountable to us all.

Kevin Dorse, Ottawa

Seniors fight back

Finance Minister Paul Martin may fool some Canadians with his magical balancing of the nation’s annual budget while adding another $9.7 billion to Canada’s longterm debt, for a grand total of $589 billion or $19,500 per citizen (“Citizens’ revolt,” Canada, April 20). But let him try his fancy arithmetic on any further tampering with the well-deserved pensions of today’s seniors and he will learn a new meaning of the word unaccountability.

Robert A. Johnson, Brampton, Ont.

“Citizens’ revolt” describes me as “a vocal critic of the Seniors Benefit.” I am strongly pro the Seniors Benefit, but vocal about fixing its design so it does not contain unfair treatment of Canadians whose incomes are a little more than the average wage. The 1996 proposals were needlessly discriminatory against saving for retirement by both lowand middle-income Canadians. These changes would add to the pension squeeze imposed by other recent alterations to the Canadian retirement income system. The Old Age Security programs and their replacement, the Seniors Benefit, are the most important foundations of Canada’s retirement income system. I will do my best to promote their sustainability.

David W. Slater, Ottawa

'Without a hyphen'

Our family came to Canada from Hungary, seeking freedom and a better life (“In praise of multicultural diversity,” The Road Ahead, April 27). We strove to immerse ourselves in the Canadian life, including the language of the country, and brought up our two sons to be Englishspeaking Canadians, without a hyphen. It is our firm belief that a common language is essential to identify yourself with the community you choose to live in. If you wish to maintain and cultivate the language and customs of your country of origin, why immigrate? Only to exploit the opportunities offered by this generous country? Multiculturalism is fragmenting Canada.

Susan and George Tolnai, Ottawa

Education investment

It was a pleasure to read your excellent outline of the unique postsecondary system of British Columbia (“Customizing a degree,” Education, April 20). Your article focused on the cost of tuition at these institutions. In British Columbia, students pay 16 per cent

of the operating cost of the universities, while the taxpayers pay the remaining 84 per cent. Equally informative is that at the University of British Columbia, the taxpayers have reduced their support between 1984 and 1997 by 21 per cent per year based on constant dollars and the number of degrees granted. I am sure this pattern is duplicated across Canada. Canada may be a high total spender among OECD countries, but when the comparison is done on a per-student basis, Canada is one of the lower spenders among these countries. Taxpayers should know the rate at which they are disinvesting in the future of our young people.

D. W. Strangway, President and vice-chancellor emeritus, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Olympic pride

Canadian athletes should not feel that their Olympic experience is cheapened by the sale of Canadian Olympic clothing by Roots (“Fame, friends, fortune,” Business, April 13). Canadians buy the clothing because it is a way of showing their pride and to share in the success of the Canadian delegation in Nagano, Japan.

Chris Alcantara, Toronto

Going to bat

I have no quarrel with Jacques Villeneuve’s selection as Canadian Male Athlete of the Year for 1997. In “Athlete of the year” (The Mail, April 27), Marice Pelletier’s remarks about the intelligence of baseball players in comparison to Formula One drivers are way off base, however. I have been coaching and scouting minor ball for more than 50 years. Great hitting requires an enormous amount of mental focus, toughness, courage and instincts. So, yes, “the same can be said for a baseball player and his bat.”

Graeme Nichol, London, Ont.

Lost in space

I have just returned from attending the launch of space shuttle mission STS-90. My brother, Dr. Dave R. Williams, is a mission specialist onboard and it was a great thrill watching him enter space on the Columbia (“Ready for blast-off,” Space, April 13). I would, however, like to clarify that we grew up not in Pointe Claire, Que., as mentioned in the article, but in Beaconsfield, where we still have friends.

Bronwen Williams, L’Original, Ont.

Politics and terrorism

Although I have read more unbalanced accounts of some of the things happening in Hebron, in the Middle East, in “A fractured dream” (World/Special Report, April 27) you write about “Hamas, the violenceprone Islamic militant group.” While I deplore any sort of violence, I would just like to see one reporter tell about the schools and health clinics that Hamas funds. Hamas has a political wing and a military wing, which have been growing apart and are now basically entirely different entities. It is possible to support the political side of Hamas while condemning the military side. In 1997, I spent 3V2 months living in downtown Hebron as an international observer. I sat in the Abu Heykal home described in the article many times for tea and coffee and listened to their stories of the hardships of living between the Jewish settlement and the Israeli Defence Forces soldier camp. You didn’t mention how Abu Heykal’s five-year-old niece sometimes needs to be escorted up the hill for fear of attack by settlers, or how his wife has been stoned walking that same route. Make no mistake about it, the Abu Heykal family lives in a very real state of fear. Your article doesn’t seem to suggest any sort of power imbalance between the

Palestinians and the Israeli settlers. While settlers may flaunt any size of Rambo-style weapon, Palestinians can’t carry so much as a pocketknife.

Pete Byer, Harrisonburg, Va.

You commend Israeli historian Benny Morris for “rigorous objectivity,” but scrupulously avoid that commitment yourself. Specifically, you select Israeli views from only one part of the political spectrum— Morris, Abba Eban, Yaron Ezrahi, Uri Avneri—all from the Israeli left. So intent are you to promote a picture of Israel as a militant aggressor that you entirely omit essential countervailing historical facts: that in November, 1947, the local Palestinian Arab leadership and the entire Arab world rejected UN Resolution 181 recommending the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state; that subsequently the Palestinian guerrillas initiated a violent campaign against the Jews; that one day after Israel declared statehood (on May 14, 1948), five Arab armies attacked the nascent Jewish state in order to destroy it; that in the spring of 1967, a war hysteria was whipped up in Egypt and Syria against Israel, which again was threatened with destruction; and that following the Six-Day War, the Arab League

meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, issued the Three Noes about relations with Israel: “No recognition, no negotiation, no peace.” No mention was made that the spate of Hamas terrorist suicide bombings in the spring of 1996 had a significant impact on the election later that year of Binyamin Netanyahu and his centre-right coalition. Indeed, your story remarkably omits the whole issue of Hamas terrorism and its impact on Israeli attitudes towards negotiations with Yasser Arafat’s administration. These are all basic facts of history.

Joshua Freeman, Thornhill, Ont.

The 85 factor

Ontario teachers with the 85 factor (combination of age plus experience) can retire, and some can get a 66-per-cent pension (“A strategic truce,” Education, May 4) ? But to get this maximum, a teacher must have contributed to the pension fund for 33 years. Do the arithmetic and see that this teacher would have had to begin teaching at age 19, not the situation for most teachers who find themselves eligible with an 85 factor. My husband is one of them and he would get a pension closer to 50 per cent. If there is a mass exodus of teachers taking advantage of the 85 factor, it won’t reflect the lure of a big pension: it will say more about the increased stresses of teaching in the dispirited school environment created by the present government.

Bonnie J. Weaver, Guelph, Ont.

Blood compensation

Ido not feel those infected with hepatitis C before 1986 should be compensated, and yes, I do know their pain (“Blood feud in the Commons,” Canada Notes, May 4). My son was tested, as he received blood in 1990 and officials were not sure the blood had been screened. Thankfully, he tested negative. To compensate those who received blood before 1986, before testing was available, would be like saying let’s pay for the unknowns. As every matter becomes dealt with, more controversy begins: a new blood problem might be the transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease via blood.

Paula Guntah, Whitby, Ont.

British know-how

As a native Montrealer, I was very much saddened to read that Nick Auf der Maur had passed away from cancer (Passages, April 20). One of his witty sayings has stayed with me for many years, and I have often repeated it to Americans and other non-Canadians: “In Canada, we had access to French culture, British politics and American know-how. Unfortunately, we have ended up with American culture, British know-how and French politics.” I’m sorry to report that Canada’s “British know-how” is the main reason why I no longer live there.

Michael Zuker, St. Louis

Anywhere but B.C.

I was interested to read about the housing boom in Canada (“Boom, bust and housing,” Canada, April 27) and especially why Vancouver was missing out, considering that only a few years ago the boom was in

Vancouver. But I was disappointed that the main reason why Vancouver’s housing boom has died down was left out: our provincial economic mess. The NDP government here is working hard to chase all business out of town. But our government doesn’t seem to care, spending all the money they’re stiffing out of business to run their propaganda commercials on radio and TV. If I had my own business, I’d start it anywhere in Canada except British Columbia.

Patrick Witwicki, Port Coquitlam, B.C.

Best of both worlds

Allan Fotheringham makes a wonderful distinction in “Learning to love the American bully next door” (April 13). Although we Americans are generally nice people as a group, we become insufferable pinheads anytime some nationalistic zealot unfurls a flag. It is an intractable schizophrenia no less opaque to those of us directly embarrassed by it. My solution? If we could trade our decent military pay for your decent health-care system, would you all consider adding Ohio as the next province?

Paul Shinkle, Seven Hills, Ohio

Education funding

Due to reorganization in New Brunswick’s public-school system, our province’s “per-pupil cost” is not easily comparable with other Canadian provinces (“Funding feuds,” Education, April 6). The graph in your article was misleading, since the New Brunswick figure represents only nine months of costing data. All other Canadian provinces have figures reported that were based on a 12-month period. These data differences were clearly outlined in our submission to the province of British Columbia, which co-ordinated the collection of pan-Canadian per-pupil costing data. For the 1996-1997 fiscal year, representing a 12-month reporting period, the public school per-pupil cost for New Brunswick was $6,134, placing it third not last.

Bernard Thériault, Minister of education, Fredericton

Divorce issues

While I can see the value of having compulsory divorce education programs, it still seems a backwards approach to solving the family breakdown crisis (“After divorce,” Cover, April 20). A much better solution is to have a compulsory pre-marriage education program. Point out the challenges that happen in every marriage, like communication issues, differing expectations, money management, sexual problems and how to learn the necessary spirit of mutual self-sacrifice that is the glue to every good marriage. To deal with relationship issues after a marriage breaks up is like trying to teach a drug addict the dangers of drugs when he/she is already addicted.

Henry Steenbergen, Abbotsford, B. C.

Finally, some of the issues surrounding divorce have been brought to the fore. Unfortunately, you did not present a totally fair view of support-paying fathers. For example, the new federal child support guidelines are nothing but a thinly veiled money grab. The second spouse of a non-custodial parent can now have his or her income included for the purposes of increasing child support. However, the income of custodial parents’ second spouses are not considered since the guidelines are based on the support-paying parent’s income. This implies that second spouses of non-custodial parents are somehow financially responsible for children they did not bring into this world, and that they do not contribute financially to the care of these children in the non-custodial parent’s home. These perceptions are both insulting and erroneous.

Barb Corbett, Fredericton

As a single parent and director of the Nova Scotia Shared Parenting Association, I thank Maclean’s for helping to raise public awareness of imposed separation between children and divorced parents. Unfortunately, the article mislabels us as a “fathers’/men’s rights” movement, which we are not. Shared parenting is about mothers and fathers who love their children. Joint custody, as a legal term, is not always the same as shared parenting. Joint custody often means the same regime of sole custody for mothers with a bit more input for dads, but it may not entail the equal-time relationship the child had or should have with each loving parent.

Richard Johnson, Halifax